nofoodFood waste. We’ve all done it. We buy that bag of spinach with high hopes and then three days later, it’s wilted and slimy, so in the trash it goes. Let’s not even talk about avocados and their ability to ripen and go bad in the span of five seconds. We save leftovers with the hopes someone will eat them but they sit there and judge us every time we open the fridge. After a few days, we get tired of their judgment so we toss them.
We can do better though. I’ve started thinking of throwing out food as throwing away a few hours of work. Lighting the $15 worth of tossed food on fire. Thinking of it this way changed the way I look at buying food and using leftovers. It’s even more important to curb waste since grocery prices are rising.
Here are three hacks that I use to keep our grocery budget low and to stop our food waste:
- Make a plan. A plan is going to make the biggest impact on a food budget and making sure you aren’t throwing out food. It can be as elaborate as having every single meal planned out for the week or it can be as simple as having ingredients on hand for easy recipes. In this season of life, I am using the simple stocked pantry method. I have five recipes that my family enjoys and I ALWAYS keep these ingredients in my pantry and in my freezer. ALWAYS. This saves me from ordering takeout and it makes sure that I don’t have to think about dinner when I’m tired.
Here is an example of my five staple recipes; they are incredibly simple, everyone in my family will eat them, and they are cheap. Every family will be different but find what works for your family.
- Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup: this is a classic and so easy and quick to make. It’s also a great way to use up any produce that’s going bad. A grilled cheese can be super fancy with some spinach, thin apple slices, and a piece of deli meat.
- Bow Tie Pasta: I take a can of crushed tomatoes, garlic, onions, and any other veggies that are about to go bad and simmer them together for about 20 minutes with some olive oil. Use a blender to puree it and pour it over some pasta and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. It’s cheap, simple, and a great way to use up leftover veggies.
- Shrimp Fried Rice: A great way to use up leftover rice or you can use a frozen bag of rice and a frozen bag of veggies. I use frozen shrimp (thawed using the cold water method) to keep it cheap and easy. In a large skillet, add your frozen veggies and spices, and sauté in oil until soft. Add your rice, soy sauce, and thawed shrimp and check your seasonings. In the last minute or so, add an egg and scramble it. Top with green onions and sesame seeds if you have it.
- Sliders. My kids have never met a slider they didn’t love. It may have to do with the Hawaiian buns or the mini size, but they love them. I love them because they’re easy. Our current favorite is a chicken Parmesan slider. Cut the slider buns in half and spread both sides with marinara sauce. Top with leftover chicken (I am always buying the $5 Costco rotisserie chickens) and another layer of sauce. Top with mozzarella cheese and Italian seasoning and add the top layer of buns. Brush the tops with butter and bake covered in a 350F oven for 15-20 minutes, then uncover and bake an additional five minutes just to brown the tops.
- Frozen lasagna. I know, but hear me out. My family loves lasagna, but it is labor intensive. I make a few pans of lasagna a year to freeze, but I also like to keep a frozen lasagna on hand for quick meals once I’ve used up the homemade ones. Our favorite lasagna is the Stouffer’s brand.
2. Get creative with leftovers. My FAVORITE of ALL TIME leftover hack is to put it over potatoes. Confused? This picture is a perfect example.
I used all leftovers to make this delicious plate of food. Leftover potatoes and roasted veggies that I crisped in the air fryer along with leftover steak chopped into pieces. I topped my plate with steak sauce and the last of the Greek yogurt. My kids got the steak, potatoes, and minced veggies tossed in salsa and topped with cheese. This method is perfect for using leftovers; chop up leftover meat, re-crisp leftover veggies, and place them on a bed of potatoes (I’ve even used leftover mashed potatoes with success).
Another way to get creative with leftovers is to make a Pinterest board or save some Tik Tok videos with ideas. Ever heard of a Slim Shady? It’s a grilled cheese using leftover spaghetti (noodles and all) as the filling. It’s super messy and over the top, and my family loves it. We don’t have it often but when we do, not a single bite of food is left.
3. Utilize your freezer. If you have food or produce about to go bad, wrap it up and stick it in the freezer, then make a plan to use it the next week. I currently have a large Ziplock bag FULL of diced veggies like bell peppers, onions, carrots, and broccoli just waiting for a stir fry or veggie soup. I have leftover portions of casseroles, cooked meats like taco meat, meat sauce, and shredded pork just waiting to be added to meals. Any time I need a quick meal, I thaw a portion of food or some cooked meat and add some frozen veggies and maybe a salad or other quick side and dinner is ready with little effort and zero waste.